Posts Tagged ‘convergence’

Lately I’ve watch a number of interviews with Ford CEO Alan Mulally. I find a lot to like in this guy. He puts forth a good image for Ford. Moreover there seems to be substance to back up the talk. When you look at Ford you see a company on the upswing. Quality has improved to where it competes with the best out there. Furthermore I sense a spirit in the company which wants to lead rather than follow.  I don’t always agree with what’s being done but I admire the attempt. A good example is the use of Microsoft’s Sync product. It’s flawed. I have concerns because it is from Microsoft. Then again I would have concerns if it was from Apple.  It does NOT do what I think it should. Mulally seems to understand this. Here is a good interview that speaks to convergence and transparency.

Pay particular attention to the 7:40 and 10:10 time points. Mulally mentions making the digital life in the home merge with the digital life in the car. I like this guy. He accepts criticism of Sync but stands by it as the right direction even if presently flawed. I like a guy willing to believe in a direction and work to perfect it even if the initial attempt isn’t what it should be.

I was reading about the Asus Padfone and it got me second guessing some of the things I have written. Am I wrong that the phone will be primary with a wireless link to other display devices? Or… perhaps I am correct and these are just steps along they way. That happens when a trend is major as I previously discussed. The problem with my solution is battery life. What the Padfone brings is the large battery in the tablet. Having a full time high bandwidth link will require major improvements in battery technology. That will come but it isn’t here right now. Perhaps each device should be able to stand on its own. If so then what happens to my dream of the phone as the central device? It stays alive in a modified form. Rather than transmitting the display perhaps the devices are sync’d so each has the same programs and all that needs to be transferred is current status and data. This will minimize data transfer and hence battery consumption. Switching from device to device won’t be quite as seamless but the basic idea will be there. As battery technology gets better we will eventually reach full integration but right now we’ll have to be satisfied with incremental steps. As I’ve said before, this is going to be interesting and a lot of fun to watch.

It may seem like I have been mostly regurgitating news. Look deeper. I am trying to point out the trends of convergence and transparency and how they are reaching everywhere. On the surface Google Wallet is a nice tweak to how you pay for what you buy. In terms of those affected it is easy to see the retailers, banks and credit card companies. If you look on the surface at semiconductor companies you might just think about those chips which enable NFC. This is part of something much bigger that affects many more companies. NFC services like Google Wallet will make transactions more transparent i.e. easier and more convenient. They also converge services into the phone and continue pushing the phone towards becoming your dominant computing platform. This is what I started this blog off with. It doesn’t matter if Google Wallet in it’s present form becomes big or not. It’s a symptom of a larger movement. No matter what business you are in you need to evaluate your strategy with convergence and transparency in mind. How will your business play out when the phone is the dominant computing platform? Intel and AMD are reacting to this today. For once the interests of AMD and Intel are aligned. They need to bring the X86 architecture to tablets and then mobile phones. Microsoft is also reacting as they worry about Windows being marginalized. Think how differently this would have been had the iPhone and iPad been based on the Atom processor. For the other chip companies there is the increasing importance of LTE and the cloud. Flash memory will continue to be pushed to grow in density and decrease in price. The world is moving towards one gigabyte of storage in the phone. Remember reading about how over built the global network is? Think again. OLED screens will finally become a mainstream technology driven by the phone. Eventually they will grow to be the dominant technology in both laptops and TV’s.  This shift affects media. The RIAA and  MPAA continue their vain attempts at protecting intellectual property rather than embracing the technology trends and profiting from them. That’s an entire blog (or two or three) in and of itself. Is your company preparing for the upcoming changes? More importantly, have you looked deep to see how convergence and transparency will change your business landscape?

I’m going to go out on a limb and make some suggestions to Apple. As their recent meager earnings and growth show, they really need my advice.

Apple TV needs to be transformed. Start by allowing apps to run on it. The goal should be to make it a casual gaming platform. Card games would work especially well. The TV would show the overall table. Each player would view his hand on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. A simple controller could be developed and sold for people without the above devices. The key is that this would integrate the Apple community of devices. iOS devices have already reached a portable gaming market share that challenges Nintendo DS.  It’s time for Apple TV to attack the Wii.

As the trends of transparency and convergence move forward it is going to be more and more important that moving from device to device is seamless. iOS on Apple TV needs to be the same overall as iOS on the iPad etc.

I said Apple TV needs to be transformed. That includes the hardware form factor. The present product is fine as an add-on device. However, GoogleTV is a big threat and the largest threat will be from TV manufacturers integrating GoogleTV into their TV sets. That will remove a lot of the value of getting an Apple TV device. This presents a dilemma. How does Apple retain total control of Apple TV, including the hardware, while attacking GoogleTV. The answer is to build a version of Apple TV in a slim card format that can be installed in a standardized slot on a TV. The manufacturer will get to advertise “Apple TV inside.” Apple will get to control the hardware and software. Furthermore, while TV sets have long replacement cycles, Apple will still be able to tempt consumers to update their Apple TV card every two to four years at a $99 cost. As GoogleTV gets built inside of TV’s this will be an issue for Google. We already see that the original Android phones can’t run the newest releases of Android.

When OSX and iOS merge, Apple will have a single solution across desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, and TV. Furthermore, most of their solution will fit the model of upgrading every two to four years. That not only generates increased revenue but it allows the software to move forward without being hampered by legacy device issues. Microsoft has been hindered by the need to have Windows run on old hardware. This has been less of an issue for Apple. Apple should work to maintain that advantage.

Eventually the content on your phone will link to your TV. Video calls will transfer seamlessly from device to device. The winning companies will be the ones that generate an integrated and transparent ecosystem of devices. Apple has a tremendous opportunity here. The iPhone and iPad are seamless to move between. OSX, with the introduction of Lion, will look more like iOS. That leaves the TV. Apple can certainly position the iMac as a TV. However, that market will be small compared to the TV market as a whole. They will be in danger of being overwhelmed by GoogleTV. Today companies like Panasonic offer their own, proprietary internet connectivity solutions. In the future they will look to go with a mainstream third party solution. Apple needs to make sure they are a big portion of the solution.

Apple TV has been almost a hobby device for Apple. That is changing. It’s time for Apple to see how important it is to make Apple TV become the standard for TV connection to the internet. Eventually it become a streaming media world. As convergence progresses the DVD player will disappear as will the set top box. The game console will disappear too. There will just be the TV. Apple needs to make sure they are in that TV.

The main trends I keep coming back to are convergence and transparency. Google is holding Google I/O 2011 and these trends are front and center. There is a lot to cover. To start, let’s talk about Ice Cream Sandwich. No, not the dessert but the update to Android. As I mentioned after looking at the Xoom, a problem with Android tablets is that they are more than a little divorced from the Android phone experience. Ice Cream Sandwich solves that by bringing a lot of the tablet features to the phone. This gets Google back on track and makes them a serious threat to Apple. Goole seems to finally recognize that, while variety may be the spice of life, variety, in the form of platform fragmentation, is also the enemy of convergence and transparency. Fragmentation of the Android platform is a big problem but Ice Cream Sandwich is a big step toward reducing fragmentation. That means a common user experience between an Android phone and an Android tablet. This is a hallmark of Apple’s iOS. Absent from all of this is Microsoft.

That sucking sound you here is the phone sucking in other devices. As the phone becomes your computer it isn’t content to stop there. More and more devices will get pulled in. Pity the poor PND. What, you don’t understand the acronym? It stands for Personal Navigation Device. You know those. That’s what you used to own before you realized your smartphone did an entirely adequate job as a GPS device and was always with you.

It isn’t just the PND. In the US, Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) and the Nintendo DS have about equal market share. Apple’s market share is increasing. Sony is finding it necessary to merge the PSP into a phone. It gets worse. Microsoft hopes that merging Xbox games and Xbox Live into Windows Mobile 7 will help its mobile platform. Portable gaming is being taken over by smartphones and the related spinoff devices such as the iPod Touch.

Do you need some other devices? Let me add two more – the movie camera and the still camera. Dedicated devices are much better than using a smartphone. However, smartphones are becoming good enough for most day to day use. When news breaks worldwide the first video is usually shot from a phone.

Now do you see the scope of convergence or are you saying “Ok, but that’s pretty much it.” Think broader. With near field communication, NFC, the phone will become your wallet. You won’t need to carry credit cards. Your phone will serve that purpose. Just “swipe” your phone near a reader and you are done. It will become a controller for your home and a remote for your TV. This clip says it all.

The computer is merging with the phone. The circuitry to do this is easy. Ouch! I can hear my colleagues in the semiconductor industry yelling at me already. What is being accomplished at the chip level is truly amazing. Processor speeds are hitting 1.5GHz and we have dual core processors with quad core just around the corner. Graphics are now 3D capable and 1080P playback is supported. Storage is 32GB or better. 512MB of RAM is common with 1GB on its way. Wow! That’s a nice laptop from a couple of years ago and a nice desktop from four or five years ago. Still, this is easy compared to the human factors issues.

The transition from desktop to laptop was easy with relatively simple human factors issues involved. The difficult part was the hardware. Software changed very little. Human factors involved things like making the screen thinner and the keyboard better. The smartphone brought basic issues to be resolved. Some, including whether to have a physical keyboard or not, are still being played out in the marketplace. As capability improved, Microsoft went down the “featuritis” path. Windows Mobile started to generate the first batch of application content for phones. But.. it took Apple to blow the doors wide open with the iPhone and its associated app store.

Why Apple won when Microsoft had such a huge head start involves many things and will be the subject of a future discussion. It is a fascinating topic. The simple answer is that Apple used the emerging power included in smartphone hardware to reinvent the user interface. In hindsight, everything prior to the iPhone either feels limited or clunky. With the iPhone we finally got a pone OS that understood it was on a phone rather than trying to be a mini laptop. The success of the iPhone user interface is illustrated by a friend of mine. He said that after getting an iPhone it was frustrating to use his Garmin GPS. He kept wanting to swipe the screen. That’s the sign of a good UI. It quickly becomes natural and you get frustrated when similar devices don’t operate the same way.

Today we have iOS, Android, WebOS, Windows Mobile 7 and several other contenders in the phone/tablet computer arena. We have phones with keyboards and phones without. There are big screens and small screens. With Android there is a mini battle of who can best customize the Android UI. The take-away is that this is a major trend. The path is not clear and is rapidly developing. The winning formula today may not be the winning formula tomorrow. The take-away is that this is a major trend.

According to IDC, there were more smartphones sold in 2010 than PCs. Think about that. Let it sink in. The phone is becoming the dominant computing platform. In the future the laptop will be secondary to the phone. It will augment the phone rather than the smartphone augmenting the laptop. As the phone takes on this new role it will have to evolve way beyond its present state. As this happens the phone will consume more and more devices. Convergence will expand well beyond computer and phone. In addition, a second trend will move to the forefront. That trend is transparency. This includes both transparency of use, i.e. the UI extending across many devices, and transparency of data.

The merging of the PDA and the phone is a done deal. We have moved on to the smartphone that can run apps beyond those of the classic PDA. Still, for many, this is their view of convergence. The Palm Treo showed the way but success led to myopia and Palm is no more. OK, it’s still there and WebOS is being pushed by HP. We’ll see. Call it a dark horse in a tough race. For too long Palm thought that merging the classic PDA with the phone was where convergence would end. They were wrong and by the time they realized it they were way behind. Myopia resulted in opportunity and market position being lost.

Microsoft saw the need for the smartphone. They should be the big winner today. They aren’t. Like so many in the high tech area they thought it was about feature count. They took the merging of the computer and the phone too literally and thought the smartphone should be a smaller laptop. They were wrong. In reality the computer and the phone are moving to a merged but very different use model.  Understanding convergence without understanding transparency can lead to failure. It has for Microsoft. By any rational, technical feature count analysis they should be a big winner. For many years they have had a small version of Office on Windows Mobile phones. They have a real directory structure. Of all of the smartphones they are the closest in feel to a traditional computer. Yet, the iPhone blew them away.  Interestingly, in the end, Microsoft will turn out to have been more right than wrong. Smartphones will gain a directory structure. Trust me on this one. Even Apple will eventually succumb to this. Already the iPhone has Office type apps that sort of work with MS Office files. Microsoft is the loser who gets to say “But I was really right!” With Windows Mobile 7 they stand a chance but they are number three in a tough race.  We’ll have to wait and see if they can get away from “featuritis” and understand both convergence and transparency.

Next up in the success leads to myopia crowd is RIM and the Blackberry line. What a great success story. The push mail capability brought by RIM has revolutionized the phone. Back when email was an afterthought on phones, RIM made it primary and did it with innovation, insight and excellent execution. Just as importantly, RIM courted the IT community and insinuated themselves into the fabric of business life. Today we take mail on our smartphone for granted. RIM is the gold standard for mail connectivity and Blackerry phones are known for their keyboards that make texting and email easier than on other phones. Surely RIM will be a winner as convergence proceeds. Well, in the words of Leslie Nielson in Airplane, “Don’t call me Shirley.” As smartphones have moved from email device to small, app running, computers, RIM has been left behind. Do you see a pattern? RIM left the door open for Apple and Google. Not only did these companies take the developing space RIM ignored but they are now attacking RIM at its core. Just read this article to see how the corporate world, including financial companies, is opening up to Apple. Yes, Apple! The company that was ostracized from the corporate environment and ridiculed by IT departments everywhere is being warmly accepted into the corporate world. Times are changing. The corporate walls that protected RIM have been breached with the iPad leading the way. RIM’s PlayBook is too little too late. If it had hit the market place two years ago it might have secured the corporate world from attack and had IT departments still recommending RIM. Yet again success and lack of vision have led to stagnation.

All of this is what I call classic convergence. The phone merged with the PDA and then became the premier email access device. It would be easy to think that we are nearly done. In reality it has just started.  That’s because convergence is much, much bigger than calendars, address books and email. Stay tuned as I explore the many areas making up convergence and how this ties in with transparency.


I have mentioned convergence and, to a smaller extent, transparency. Both of these are much bigger in scope than what is commonly written about in the media. The trends are broader, stronger and deeper than is generally discussed and will have far ranging impacts on both software and hardware. Our lives are in the process of being transformed.   Hardware devices will come and go.  Some of the near term trends are but intermediate steps destined to be footnotes with our children telling their children “I remember when…”   In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy we are told “The universe is big. Very, very big.” I am telling you that convergence and transparency are big. They are very, very big. How big? Big enough to transform our lives rather than being just a small shift. Big enough to cause hardware and software to be created and then to fade away. Big enough to have major companies fight for supremacy or, in some cases, survival. There are companies today wasting precious engineering resources designing yesterday’s products because they are looking so near term that they miss where things are really headed.

Enough of the FAX machine. I want to return to the idea of segregation. Segregation, and consequently convergence, is a lot broader in scope than FAX machines and copiers. There is also data segregation. We have data on our desktop at home and data on our computer at work and data on our laptops and data on our phones. Remember the little locker folder from Microsoft that was supposed to aid with synchronizing your data? No? OK, I don’t remember much about it either. Today we synchronize through Google or Dropbox or MobileMe. This allows us to share some of our data across various devices. But segregation and hence upcoming convergence is broader than that. Whether it is a church directory, our checkbook, an old family recipe, or a list of To Do items we have data everywhere and much of it is physically compartmentalized. We are comfortable with this. Mankind has centuries of adaptation to this model. Just think of the traditional file cabinet. We place things in physical locations and then later, when we need them, we try to remember where they reside. I suspect most people reading this know that this is changing but do they understand how truly pervasive this trend is?

OK, now it’s time for a brief side trip so I can hint at what will be a major upcoming topic in future posts. I want to go back to the FAX machine. When the FAX started getting merged with the printer one thing that made the move successful was the low learning curve. The buttons on the multifunction printer were dedicated FAX buttons. With LCD displays this is now a little different but the concept is the same. Select FAX and the “buttons” are all there. This transparency of use, where there is little training and it is seemingly obvious how to operate a device is a major underlying trend today. Look around and think of all of the different interface systems you learn. There is the TV remote, the game system, the smartphone, and the computer. That’s just a start. Let’s move to the car where many have a complex interface be it IDRIVE or SYNC. Transparency of use, or the lack thereof, is broader than most understand. While related to the idea of ease of use, transparency is much bigger in scope and impact. Together with convergence these two trends are going to drive a major battle pitting many companies against each other and transforming how we use technology.